Archive for December, 2010

Chimes At Midnight

“Just a moment, sir!”

Security guards, in uniform and in plain clothes, seemed to materialize from every quarter.

“May I ask you what you have in your pocket?”

In no time at all he was being patted down by a person or persons he could not see. He reached into his pocket and came up with the handful of red stones he had picked up on Sinai.

The security woman looked at him questioningly.

“From Sinai,” he told her. “To keep.”

“Stones?”

“Because they’re from here,” he said.

She stared at him for a moment and then gave him a smile of such radiance that all the angular suspicion of her features passed away. It made him think again of the Zohar: “The light is the light of the eye.”

He was flying out business class; he had gotten an upgrade on mileage. He took his aisle seat in the cabin and ordered champagne. Moments after takeoff, the plane was over hazy blue ocean. The brown land fell away aft.

The stones were still in his hand, and when his champagne came he spilled them out onto the tray table. When the flight attendant brought him the drink she asked about them.

“Just rocks,” he said. “From Sinai. Or what’s supposed to be Sinai.”

“Oh,” she said, “were you there?”

He began to stammer. Perhaps it was the prospect of champagne in the morning. Had he stood on Sinai?

“Yes,” he said. “I guess so.”

When they approached Frankfurt, where he would be changing planes, he had a moment’s panic. New York? But he had no life in New York. No one there. Yet that was a ridiculous notion. One always had a life. Whatever you lived, wherever you lived it, was life.

Yet he kept thinking of life lost. A woman lost, a faith, a father lost, all lost. So he had to remind himself of something an American painter whose work he had once seen at the Whitney had offered as a credo, which had been fixed on the wall beside his work, and which Lucas had never forgotten:

“Losing it is as good as having it.”

It was a hard text, one of great subtlety. One needed the pilpul, the analytical skills, of a Raziel to interpret it.

It meant, he thought, that a thing is never truly perceived, appreciated or defined except in longing. A land in exile, a God in His absconding, a love in its loss. And that everyone loses everything in the end. But that certain things of their nature cannot be taken away while life lasts. Some things can never be lost utterly that were loved in a certain way.

At Frankfurt airport, between planes, it was a different world.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

The Wife Of Lot

The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew these cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

—Genesis 19:23-26

I don’t get this story. Why did the woman have to be transformed into salt, simply for looking back? Sure, in doing so she disobeyed The Dude, who said not to do that, but there has to be more to it than that. Because we already got, back there at the beginning of Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the fruit, the lesson that it is necessary to at all times Do What He Says. So there has to be more going on there.

And why aren’t we even allowed to know the woman’s name? Any why salt? Why not cobalt, or gypsum, or a life-sized replica of Ronald McDonald?

There are many questions that need to be answered here. Like, did the Hebrews just steal this story from the Greeks? Bearers of the cruel tale of Orpheus losing Eurydice, while bringing her up out of Hades, because just as they were about to enter daylight, he turned round to gaze upon her face, and thus violated a commandment not to look back till they were clean out of the place? And what was that commandment all about? Why do these deities do these nasty things?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I’m going to look into them, though, in the months to come. In the meantime, I’m here to make like the wife of Lot, and look back at the last year on this blog.

In the present day, in Sodom and Gomorrah v2.0, it is traditional to look back on the dying year. So why not here?

And who knows—maybe somebody someday will want to go back and read those scattered pieces linked beyond the “furthur.” If, say, they’re ever felled by mononucleosis, or are granted computer access while interned in a prison cell. Or get turned to salt.

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In Tradition With The Family Plan

Elton John and his lover David Furnish recently became the parents of a baby boy, courtesy of a surrogate mother, who birthed Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John on Christmas Day.

“For many years we have talked about fulfilling one of our greatest wishes by becoming parents,” John said. “And now this wish has been granted to us, we feel so blessed and lucky.”

The child was born in the United States. John and his people are refusing to furnish any other details as to the mother’s name or precise whereabouts, which of the two men is the biological father, or the nature of the surrogate arrangement. As is their right.

“We are overwhelmed with happiness and joy at this very special moment,” John and Furnish stated in a missive to US Weekly. “Zachary is healthy and doing really well, and we are very proud and happy parents.”

Of the several names applied to the child, one is familiar to those versed in John’s music—”Levon,” the title of a tune from his 1971 Madman Across The Water release. Some may figure that John and Furnish couldn’t resist appending the name because their child, like the Levon in the song, was “born on a Christmas Day.” But there is probably more to it than that.

Because John and Furnish in 2009 sought to adopt a 14-month-old Ukrainian HIV-positive boy named Lev. But were prevented from doing so, by fossils.

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Counting Coup

Next come the Gindanes. The women of this tribe wear leather bands round their ankles, which are supposed to indicate the number of their lovers: each woman puts on one band for every man she has gone to bed with, so that whoever has the greatest number enjoys the greatest reputation for success in love.

—Herodotus, The Histories

Snowbound

There seems to be an inordinate amount of snow in the United States at present.

Not just in places where snow in late December is Normal—like, say, Buffalo, New York, or Icepick, Minnesota. Oh no.

For it is also besieging joints like Atlanta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, a couple of burgs where the white stuff has not put in an appearance since the 1880s—when, some say, God decided to send down snow in order to Punish People for abandoning Reconstruction (there in Genesis, The Dude promised never again to wash the world away in water, but he never said nothin’ ’bout sending snow; the guy is all about loopholes; methinks he’s a lawyer).

All day my radio has been asquawk with the sounds of half a million people marooned there up and down the Eastern seaboard, loudly expressing their displeasure, unable to get back to from where they came. For having journeyed for the holidays by plane and train and automobile to places now buried in the Snow Zone, they cannot, at present, Escape.

Heart attacks are also marching across the land. For my radio also informed me today that catastrophic cardiac events peak in the US each year around this time, as people leave tables groaning with food and wine, and television sets bellowing about men quarreling over balls, to go out and vigorously shovel snow—an activity to which their hearts say: “no.” Seems the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arms, than through the legs, and so when folks get jiggy with the shovel, Danger Lurks. This is especially true of this sort of snow, heavy snow, which appears to be known in the medical and meteorological communities as “heart-attack snow.”

I find this interesting, that the heart is less stressed in sending blood to the legs, than to the arms. I guess this settles the old Lizard Brain question of “fight or flight”: the heart votes for “flight.”

There are people who seek to blame Burning Man for this snowblind phenomena. And perhaps there is some truth in that, because the fellow has been unusually not-present over the past several days. It is possible that, abashed, he has gone into hiding.

However, as with most things, where there is bad, there is also good. So as counterpoint to the suffering that has come with this snow, I offer snow in the realm of pleasure. Specifically, a very nice snow poem authored by my daughter, the deviant. Make that the award-winning deviant.

In scrutinizing the fine print on the page where she has posted this poem, I find that in reproducing her work here, I may be treading upon her copyright. That’s okay. She’s welcome to sue. And, when she prevails, if I can’t come up with the necessary monetary damages, I’ll make up the rest by signing on to forever-after shovel clear her path.

Snow White Queen

First snow falls, a beautiful sight
white like you, but never as bright
soft and powdery, fresh and new
but nothing could ever be soft as you

Delicate, dancing, a graceful ballet
though never as graceful as you, I say
fascinated, you watch it fall
slowly cascading to cover all

Tiny paw prints in the snow
sparkle with enchanted glow
shivering paws, wet and cold
I warned you love, yes you were told

But you love to see the world covered in white
white like you, but never as bright

Career Opportunities

I’m thinking about maybe having a mid-life crisis, complete with career change. So I’m interested in this list in the January Harper’s of private-sector jobs legalized in September by the Cuban government, said legalization accompanying layoffs of some half a million state workers. Sure, that could be some fierce competition. But I’m game.

Now, and as I recently mentioned here, I do not speak Spanish. So I need a job where I will not be required to communicate with other human beings in words. That knocks from the list all the various professions involving sales: “vendor of artificial flowers,” “seller of religious articles, except those with patriotic value,” “tour guide in a colonial-style taxi,” “seller of yokes, harnesses, and ropes.”

Such careers as “documentary-film translator,” well, they are obviously out as well. “Tarot-card reader,” that I could handle, but for the language problem: I suppose I could just grunt, gesture, and Stare Meaningfully, but people having their cards read, I know from experience, usually want a little more than that.

The list also offers various manual tasks, for which, alas, I am singularly unqualified. This is because my hands, for just about any pursuit not involving typing, turning the pages of books, guiding a steering wheel, smoking cigarettes, crushing chili peppers and heaving them into various cookpots, or stroking beloved pets and persons, are pretty much, to use the rude phrase, “useless as tits on a boar hog.” So “eyeglass repairer,” “cleaner and inspector of lightbulbs,” “button sewer,” “repairer of wicker,” “restorer of dolls,” “tuner of musical instruments,” “maker of plaster figures,” and “maker of pinatas and other articles for birthday parties,” well, they’re not for me.

But I am not in despair. Oh no. Because I think I can cobble together five of the jobs on the list into a suitable new career: “clown,” “muleteer,” “pet breeder,” “zookeeper,” and “driver of animal-drawn taxis for children.” And since mules are involved, a sixth career on the list will be necessary: “magician.”

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Many Mansions

(Another reprint, more or less, from December 29 of 2009. This piece will probably conclude this blog’s little “Jesus run” for the year. Probably.)

* * *

In my Father’s house are many mansions.

—John 14:2

For another year, Christmastime has come and gone, and so has Santa, and so has Jesus.

This year in contemplating Santa and Jesus, the two began to get confused in my mind. Santa Claus, for reasons that have never really been explained, devotes each year to overseeing minute laborers who fashion gifts which he annually delivers, in a single night, to all deserving children the world over. Jesus Christ, for reasons that have been variously explained, roamed for a short time across a relatively minute plot of land, uttering gnomic wisdoms, then was seized and subjected to excruciating suffering, so that all, deserving and undeserving alike, might be gifted with salvation.

When a sprout, I was taught that while Santa’s labors never end—a yearly, year-long grind—Jesus’ was a one-shot gig. Wander around Palestine, ascend the cross, into the tomb, three days later out again, brief appearances before various friends and lovers, then up to heaven for a well-deserved eternal rest.

I no longer believe that. I believe that, as is set forth here, “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.” That is the mystic meaning of his tale: he suffers with all beings suffering in the exile of existence. And we are called upon to do the same—to grow to empathy, so that thy neighbor truly is thyself, and suffering everywhere, for everyone, may be eased. With this meaning there is no need for the resurrection. All of us are him, doing the same work; our work, his work, never ends.

For those who are wedded to the resurrection, the advances in science and philosophy in my lifetime, in the understanding of the multiple dimensions and multiple worlds about us, too mean that his work never ends. For the planets, it is now known, are innumerable, and so are the dimensional variations of this one. And if salvation is indeed his calling, he will forever be busy as twelve bastards, for there are those who need saving, inhabiting every one.

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What Child Is This

“I would like to go to the Lion’s Gate,” Raziel told him.

The Romanian volubly refused. When Raziel realized that his driver’s mind was not about to be changed, he got out of the taxi and set out on foot for the Old City.

Approaching the end of the Via Dolorosa, almost at the Lions’ Gate, above the shouting he heard a voice he knew. It was the voice of Adam De Kuff speaking from the upper quadrant of his interior universe, strong, unafraid, joyful, thoroughly delusional. Raziel shouldered his way through the ranks until he saw the man himself.

He wore what looked like an army jacket that fitted him so badly its cuffs stopped a little past his elbows. He had hugely baggy army trousers and untied muddy boots whose laces coiled around his ankles and twisted underfoot as he shuffled passionately from one end of the bench to the other like a dancing bear. There was a kippa on his head and a white scarf tied around his forehead like a turban and he crooned at the top of his voice.

Raziel kept trying to force his way closer to the old man. He had the notion of taking him away from there, before the thing failed utterly, before all spells and mercies were suspended, before whatever grace that had touched their pilgrimage was withdrawn and the violence and raw holiness of the place overwhelmed everyone.

De Kuff himself understood only that he was in the place he knew and loved best, the scene of his successes, the ancient Serapion and Pool of Israel. All that day he had been trying to reach the souls within himself as they weaved in and out of his consciousness. He had begun to think that everything he had ever believed about soul and mind was wrong. There was no way to exercise control.

But there at the Fountain, his souls were manifest and his heart was full, and in the completeness of his joy he had no choice but to tell about it. It was necessary to tell everyone, anyone, no matter how distressed or distracted they might be by politics or by the illusion of separateness and exile that burdened everyone. He felt elected and protected by God, ready to support the Ark in the holiest of places. He used the metaphors that were employed in this city, although, in a way, it might have been anywhere.

“Call me as you like,” he explained to the angry crowd. “I am the twelfth imam. I am the Bab al-Ulema. I am Jesus, Yeshi, Issa. I am the Mahdi. I am Moshiach. I have come to restore the world. I am all of you. I am no one.”

There were screams of terrible passion. “Perish he! Death!”

People began to throw stones.

“Death to the blasphemer!”

De Kuff opened his arms to them. For a moment those who were advancing on him stopped. Raziel, shouting, shoving, tried to get through.

“You don’t have to listen,” Raziel said to the crowd. “It’s all over. Rev,” he shouted to De Kuff, “it’s all over! Another time, man. Another soul. Another street.”

The men who were taking hold of De Kuff, pulling him down as he tottered on his bench, also laid hands on Raziel.

“Another day!” Raziel told them. “Another mountain!”

“I tell you, ” De Kuff informed them in his restrained Louisiana drawl. “That all was once One and will be and has always remained so. That God is One. And faith in Him is One. And all belief is One. And all believers in Him, regardless of sect, are One. Only the human heart divides. So it is written.

“See? Do you see?” De Kuff asked the men who were pulling him down. “Everyone’s waiting. And the separateness of things is false.”

He went on declaiming, using the images, the reversals, the metaphors everyone knew, expounding the souls, raising their voices, until the great holiness turned to fire and he lost consciousness.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

Attendance

“In Vence,” said Herzog, “my parents left me under a crucifix. And I asked them, my parents, ‘What happened to him?’ I meant the man on the cross, the Christ figure. I was then ten years of age and had no idea what a crucifix was. We lived in Paris. After the liberation I was not yet fourteen. The prefect told me who I was. That I was a Jew. That my parents, my family, had been delivered to the Germans and murdered by them. And I felt—what can I say—a recognition.”

“But you couldn’t leave the Church?”

“Oh,” Herzog said with a little shrug, “I didn’t care much about the Church. The Church was men, people. Some good, some not.” He looked at the floor.

“Then why?”

“Because I was waiting,” said Herzog. “Waiting where I had been left. At the foot of the cross. Out of spite or devotion, I don’t know.” He laughed and put a hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “Pascal says we understand nothing until we understand the principle from which it proceeds. Don’t you agree? So I understand very little.”

“We’re supposed to believe that Christ has gone on to reign in glory,” Lucas said.

“No,” said Herzog. “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.”

“And that,” Lucas said, “brings you here?”

“Yes,” said Herzog. “To attend. To keep on waiting.”

From the steps of the church, the evening smelled of car exhaust and jasmine.

“I realize that in this kind of world,” Lucas said, “I have no business being so unhappy. I realize also that on a religious level I’ll always be a child. It’s absurd and I regret it.”

For the first time Herzog smiled.

“Don’t regret it, sir. Perhaps you know Malraux’s Anti-memoires? His priest tells us that people are much more unhappy than one might think.” He offered Lucas his hand. “And that there is no such thing as a grownup.”

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

Para Mi Tesoro, El 23 De Diciembre

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

A certain member of my family, who shall remain nameless, at one point in the arc of life became more or less addicted to the art of dumpster diving. That is, rummaging through oversized trash containers to unearth and procure perfectly serviceable—even valuable—items that had been thoughtlessly discarded by those sorts of Americans who are, even as we speak, heedlessly gobbling up the resources of five earths.

Recently a photograph came into my possession depicting this family member engaged in the dumpster-diving art while clad in seasonal apparel. I am reproducing that photograph here. As a way of wishing that family member, and all else who happen to wander by these parts, the happiest of holidays, and a joyful, fruitful new year.

Be well, everybody.

Party To No Covenants

His weariness with things was frightening; it smacked of obliteration, a wall of anger and fatigue that felt as though it might sweep him into nothingness. Worst of all was loneliness.

There were times when he was capable of rejoicing in himself as a singularity—a man without a story, secure from tribal delusion, able to see the many levels. But at other times he felt that he might give anything to be able to explain himself. kernTo call himself Jew or Greek, Gentile or otherwise, the citizen of no mean city. But he had no recourse except to call himself an American and hence the slave of possibility. He was not always up for the necessary degree of self-invention, unprepared, occasionally, to assemble himself.

And sometimes the entire field of folk seemed alien and hostile, driven by rages he could not comprehend, drunk on hopes he could not imagine. So he could make his way only through questioning, forever inquiring of wild-eyed obsessives the nature of their dreams, their assessment of themselves and their enemies, listening agreeably while they poured scorn on his ignorance and explained the all too obvious. When he wrote, it was for some reader like himself, a bastard, party to no covenants, promised nothing except the certainty of silence overhead, darkness around. Sometimes he had to face the simple fact that he had nothing and no one and try to remember when that had seemed a source of strength and perverse pride. Sometimes it came back for him.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate

Yet Shall We Be Merry

(This is a reprint from January 11. I’d intended to post it for the 2009 Christmas season . . . but why would I ever be on time? Two weeks or so late is pretty darn good for me: there are some posts I’ve wanted to post to this blog since a couple of years before the blog existed.

(In any event, after winding around for a while, the piece settles in to talking about wassailing, a pre-Christian tradition of Olde Albion that has since become twinned to the Christ child . . . though its pagan roots still peek out, now and again, from behind his robes.

(Some people seemed to like this piece, so I thought I’d post it again, during the right time this time, to see if some “different-one people,” as my daughter would have once put it, might like it, too. It ends with a nice wassailing song, which different-one people from all around the globe have come to call their own.)

Dark wizard Albert Grossman deliberately assembled the folk-singing trio Peter, Paul, and Mary to rake in coin amid the urban folk-revival of the early 1960s. He wanted “a tall blonde, a funny guy, and a good looking guy”: that’s what he got.

But Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers proved to be something more than a quick milk of the cash cow. They introduced millions of young people, including myself, to significant forms of American roots music. Their smooth and engaging arrangements allowed us to enter them, as through a door, and out the other side we encountered lifetimes of music that, without them, we might never have known.

I had not thought much about the group for many years until the “tall blonde,” Mary Travers, passed away last fall, on September 16, of leukemia, at age 72. Just as Peter, Paul, and Mary became more than what Grossman had intended, so too did Travers. “This was not,” recalled producer Phil Ramone to Rolling Stone, “a girl who was just going to be cutesy like lead singers had been in bands. She created a much bigger role. She took no prisoners when it was what she believed in.”

In the weeks following Travers’ death, the tubes rang with reprises of the group’s music. But nobody seemed much moved to post or discuss the Peter, Paul, and Mary song that had long most entranced me. So I guess I’ll gas on about it myself, there beyond the “furthur.”

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Four In The Afternoon

Obviously, modern mechanised life becomes dreary if you let it. The awful thraldom of money is upon everyone and there are only three immediately obvious escapes. One is religion, another is unending work, the third is a kind of sluttish antinomianism—lying in bed till four in the afternoon, drinking Pernod. In any case, the essential evil is to think in terms of escape. The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a life-belt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive.

—George Orwell

Things I Cannot See

Winter Solstice time. Shortest, darkest day of the year.

This annum with an extra-special bonus full lunar eclipse. Rare combo, that. Haven’t seen the like for nearly 400 years. Last time was December 21, 1638, when Galileo was under house arrest, for the effrontery of suggesting that it was the earth’s circuit around the sun that resulted in just such phenomena.

The eclipse is proceeding as I speak. Of course I can’t see it, because of all these storms that Burning Man is bringing through here. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there, just ’cause I can’t see it. It’s there. Just like Anacaona is there.

There is a story that tells of a lunar eclipse in Cambodia, during the period of Nixon/Kissinger adventuring there. Now, Cambodians believe that a lunar eclipse is caused by a voracious celestial frog, attempting to devour the moon. Traditionally, the Cambodian people banged gongs and set off fireworks, to frighten the frog, drive him off, before he succeeded in swallowing the moon. But this time, gifted with all sorts of weaponry by the Americans, the Cambodian military fired off an estimated one million dollars worth of ordinance, in a successful attempt to prevent the frog from gorging on the moon.

I will not be firing any weapons or banging any gongs, to help the moon along its way. Instead I will seek Solas, in “Darkness, Darkness,” a song most fitting for this day.

The Shirt That You Wore

He was distracted by the fact that all she wore was his coat and a glimpse of yellow beads. He hadn’t noticed when she had put on the necklace. The coat was huge on her, and the sight was like finding a photograph of one woman in a frame that had always held a picture of another. Every second that it clung to her, it was exchanging auras of scent and heat and memory.

Ofelia knew. It was not totally true, but the charge could be made that once she had detected his grief she had suspected his loss, and once she had observed the tenderness with which he treated his coat and discovered the faint history of perfume on its sleeve, from that moment on she was determined to wear the coat herself.

—Martin Cruz Smith, Havana Bay

So over in Italy there has developed something of a Stink over a television ad for the Renault Twingo, which seems to be a sort of car. The ad, and the Stink, involve two women who meet at a party, and then repair to a bedroom for fun and frolic.

Apparently televised lesbians are more than Italian media can bear, because the ad has been yanked. This in a country that has several times elected as its prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a professional lecher of a particularly embarrassing kind, and seated in parliament Ilona Staller, an adult film star who appeared in hardcore porn while in office, and was noted for giving political speeches with one or more breasts exposed.

But no. Berlusconi’s media empire refused to air the Twingo ad, and other Italian outlets followed suit. The spot may be seen by Italian viewers now only via Sky, as the racist retrovert Rupert Murdoch has never been averse to lesbians, or to anything else—except, in his various news divisions, facts, truth, and sanity—so long as they might bring in a little coin.

I have seen this ad, which is offered in its entirety beyond the “furthur,” and I have to admit that I too am outraged. But not because it features lesbians. Oh no. What I don’t like is that it pretends to be about love, but is actually about theft.

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Seasons Greetings

I’m not sure what I think about this one.

Apparently some people in South Korea think it’s a good idea to dress up penguins like Santa Claus and reindeer, and then set them to marching in a parade, accompanied by a human Santa who wildly throws fake snow in the air.

These festivities inaugurate the annual “Christmas Fantasy” winter festival at the Everland Amusement Park in Yangin. The penguins promenade down a street decorated with some 2 million lights, 80 Christmas trees, and showers of artificial snow. There is also a holiday-themed fireworks show, hopefully set off only once the penguins, borrowed from the city zoo, have been returned to their usual quarters.

Everland, it is said, draws some 6 million visitors a year, and is the number-two most popular non-Disney theme park in the world. Everland is presumably what you get when you knock the “N” off Neverland, and run Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily, Peter Pan, and the Lost Boys off the place.

Generally I am not a fan of dressing animals in human clothing. Judging by the various photos out there on the intertubes, however, none of the birds really seem to mind. Then again, maybe I’m no good at reading penguins. After all, they do not live as you and I: these particular penguins, known as African or “jackass” penguins, prefer to dwell in homes they have burrowed out of bird guano.

Which is why they are endangered: money-grubbing humans arrived to haul all their guano away. Now they must make do with sand, and it’s just not the same.

Humans have also run off with their eggs, finding them tasty, and have meanwhile yanked all the sardine, anchovy, and squid out of the sea, leaving the birds with little to eat. Every once in a while an oil tanker will blow, or surreptitiously clean out its tanks while rounding the Horn, thereby drenching the birds with petroleum. Now seals have shown up, and are rudely pushing the birds off their 24 little islands.

These birds are called “jackass penguins” because they emit a distinctive braying noise. Reads to me like they have a lot to bray about. As the photo above shows, they’re not very big. Plucky, though.

Everything Old Is New Again

Monism is one of those ancient ideas that has never stopped being modern. The oneness of everything and the equation, Infinity equals one, are borne out by possible constructions of elementary logic, everyday observation and modern science. Infinity is the sum total of everything. There cannot be more than one infinity. (To the riposte, “Why not?” it would have to be said that, if there were numbers beyond infinity, there would be an infinite number of them.) When we identify a single object, we can think of it as an infinite number of fractions of itself. The total number of fractions of anything thus equals the total number of fractions of everything. It is tempting to try to apply the same argument to numbers between one and infinity but, whereas the real existences of one thing and of infinite things are inescapable consequences of the existence of anything, other numbers may be no more than classificatory conveniences. When we speak of five books, five towns or five universes, we are—by comparison with the certainty with which we can speak of one and infinity—only making a working statement. Another mind will see only one work, one conurbation or one cosmos. Though many philosophers have tried, none has ever come up with decisive arguments in favour of the reality (reality, that is, distinct from existence as appearances or terms) of any numbers except one and infinity. Modern developments in scientific thought and experiments on the connectedness of quantum phenomena by “superluminal” communication—apparently “faster” than light and beyond the reach of local causation—have convinced practitioners of “new physics” that the unity of the cosmos is demonstrable. A world has been revealed in which the parts “are seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationships depend, in an irreducible way, on the state of the whole system (and indeed on that of the broader systems in which they are contained, extending ultimately and in principle to the entire universe). Thus one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical idea of analysability of the world into separately and independently existent parts.

In the early years of the twentieth century, the discovery that mass and energy are interchangeable eliminated one of the most conspicuous distinctions on which traditional pluralism rested. In the 1920s, realization that the sub-atomic particles tracked by modern science are known only through the effects of their interaction created the possibility of an interconnected image of the cosmos. “Inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe” became imaginable in 1964, when JS Bell explained a long-nagging experimental anomaly by suggesting that two particles in a single system, however immense the distances by which they are separated, will continue to behave as a system by means of instantaneous connections. Quantum science did not authorize scientists to be mystical, but it did encourage mysticism.

Thus the monist universe, worshipped in so many cultures in the first millennium BC and accessible to some of the earliest human minds we know about, is still intelligible and still upheld.

—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Truth: A History And A Guide For The Perplexed

Ere He Catches The Recruiting Sergeant’s Eye

The United States Senate voted 65-31 Saturday to repeal the Clinton-era “don’t ask don’t tell” policy restricting the service of gay people in the United States military. Coupled with the 250-175 vote for repeal in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, this means the policy is effectively dead, the bill awaiting only the president’s signature.

That DADT would be repealed during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency was an inevitability to anyone who both listened to, and believed, President Obama, and Massachusetts Congressmember Barney Frank.

In April of 2008, then-candidate Obama told the Advocate that he supported DADT repeal, and that he believed repeal was something he could “reasonably” accomplish during his presidency. In July of that year, still a candidate, Obama told the Military Times that repeal “is not something that I’m looking to shove down the military’s throats,” that “I want to make sure that we are doing it in a thoughtful and principled way.”

In December of 2008, after Obama had been elected president, together with a Democratic Congress, Congressmember Frank said: “I’m confident we’ll be able to repeal [DADT] in the first Congress, in the first two years—but I think the priority has to be to get the Iraq policy set, and then move to repeal it.” Frank repeated much the same message to the New Yorker a month later: “After the troops get home from Iraq, gays in the military. The time has come.”

Retired Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, one of more than a hundred senior military officials who signed off on a November 2008 statement supporting DADT repeal, stated at the time that it was important for the Obama administration to first lay the groundwork for such a repeal. “I think that they’re going to want to talk to a lot of people, including the military leaders—talk about how it can be implemented, what the ramifications and implications are, and how they can go forth on a step-by-step process,” Barnett said. “And I personally would not ask for anything more than that.”

Throughout 2009, President Obama met numerous times with senior Pentagon officials to discuss DADT repeal. In January of 2010, in his State of the Union address, he pronounced repeal a priority, and vowed to work with Congress to accomplish it by the end of the year.

Several days later, both Obama’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that they favored DADT repeal. Mullen’s support, in particular, surprised not only gay activists, but also members of Congress.

Gates shortly thereafter announced an “exhaustive” nine-month Pentagon review of the DADT policy, which ultimately concluded that repeal would not only not result in the destruction of the United States military, but was either supported by, or mattered not a whit to, some 70% of active-duty military personnel.

In October of 2010, President Obama told a group of liberal bloggers that he was pursuing a strategy that he expected to result in the repeal of DADT during the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress:

Q: Well, can I ask you just about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” just following up? I just want to follow up. Because you mentioned it—

Obama: Yes, sure. Go ahead.

Q: Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to—

Obama: Yes.

Q: And you’re going to be involved?

Obama: Yes.

Q: Will Secretary Gates be involved?

Obama: I’m not going to tip my hand now. But there is a strategy.

Q: Okay.

Obama: And, look, as I said—

Q: Can we call it a secret plan?  (Laughter.)

Obama: I was very deliberate in working with the Pentagon so that I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs being very clear about the need to end this policy. That is part of a strategy that I have been pursuing since I came into office. And my hope is that will culminate in getting this thing overturned before the end of the year . . . Now, as usual, I need 60 votes. So I think that, Joe, the folks that you need to be having a really good conversation with—and I had that conversation with them directly yesterday, but you may have more influence than I do—is making sure that all those Log Cabin Republicans who helped to finance this lawsuit and who feel about this issue so passionately are working the handful of Republicans that we need to get this thing done . . . [T]he only really thing you need to do is make sure that we get two to five Republican votes in the Senate . . . Because what I do anticipate is that John McCain and maybe some others will filibuster this issue, and we’re going to have to have a cloture vote. If we can get through that cloture vote, this is done.

Prior to the Senate vote to repeal, cloture on a McCain-led filibuster was achieved by a vote of 63-33.

Now that DADT repeal has indeed been accomplished, will there be a retraction of the hundreds of thousands of hot words spewed over at the shriek shack these past many months, condemning the Jim Crow homophobe Barack Obama, and his running-dog lap-dog Barney Frank?

Of course not.

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Being There

[Director] Hal Ashby was scouting locations for The Last Detail in Canada, accompanied by casting director Lynn Stalmaster. Charles Mulvehill, his line producer, was supposed to meet his flight at LAX. He arrived a few minutes late. There was Stalmaster, but no Ashby.

“Where’s Hal?”

“The strangest thing happened. We got to the gate in Toronto, they stopped Hal, and they searched him, and they led him off.”

“Led him off where?”

“I don’t know. To jail, I guess.”

“Didn’t you get off the plane?”

“Hell no! I thought I should come home.”

Says Mulvehill, “We all carried dope at that point. Hal had just enough on him for a joint, maybe a little hash. It wasn’t anything we considered heavy narcotics.”

Ashby lamely told the inspectors he was carrying herbs.

“Hal sometimes had a tenuous grip on reality,” says Jerry Ayers, who was producing the picture for Columbia. “The Canadian authorities, seeing this man who looked like a Vietnamese farmer, with his mosslike beard hanging down, well, who else would they search? Hal would be the first person you would stop. You wouldn’t even need the dogs to sniff him out. He just had a sign on him: ‘I’m a drugged-out hippie.’”

Mulvehill phoned Ayres at the studio, said, “Hal’s in jail. Do something.”

Ayres called the Columbia lawyers, while Mulvehill hopped a plane to Toronto to bring him back. “I got off the plane and walked into the main airport area, and there was Hal, going through his suitcase, trying to repack it. Today, we would look at him as a bag man, a street person.”

“‘Hal, you’re out.’

“Yeah, I’m out.’”

The studio lawyers had freed him. Ashby and Mulvehill got on a plane to LA. Just after touchdown, as the plain was taxiing to the gate, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Is there a Hal Ashby on board?” Mulvehill thought, Okay, the juice is finally starting to flow, now we’re going to get the red carpet treatment from Columbia. He waved his hand, said “I’m with him, he’s on board, and I’m with him.” The next thing they knew they were both in a holding area at airport security up against the wall being strip-searched.

—Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Cubapedia

The Los Angeles Times reports that Cuba has launched its own version of wikipedia, an online encyclopedia called EcuRed.

The site is in Spanish. I don’t know Spanish—I barely know English—so I am here even more constrained from commenting knowledgeably than is generally the case. But I do know something about the ‘Murican wiki, and the lofty condescension of the Times piece is sufficiently irritating so that I feel moved to grouse about it.

The Times notes that EduRed “is to be edited by individual users, but articles would have to be approved by unidentified moderators.”

And this is different from wikipedia how? It is true that pretty much any old drunk can weave onto wikipedia and there spew forth whatever might tumble from the brainpan. But it is equally true that at some point some unidentified moderator will shuffle on by to spoon the spew into one or more of the conventional wiki molds. Or wipe the thing clean.

The Times further states that “cached versions of some pages in a Google search had the communist government’s official biases on display.”

And this is different from wikipedia how? An “official bias” towards the mandarins of the American government is “on display” to anyone who peruses the dream world of wikipedia’s entries on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. I have mentioned here before that I used to eavesdrop a little on the efforts of people to insert material that I produced into the wikipedia entries on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. This material, however, has been consistently rejected by “unidentified moderators.” Even though it’s all true.

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Just Another Night On The Town

For Every Wrong Move

One Thanksgiving I spent in jail. I was young, and therefore brash and rash, and so thought myself immortal, impervious. Didn’t think then, there in stir, about doing serious prison time, which is what I was facing. Just had to wait for the holiday weekend to pass, I figured, then the lawyer could tease the bail down to a Sane level. Which is what happened. The serious grinding over the prison time, that came later.

Thanksgiving was my third or fourth day in the place. I occupied alone a single-cell, which I belatedly learned was supposed to be a sort of punishment. I could smoke in there—can’t do that no more, in the jails here—and I could think and plan and wonder and reflect. There were tolerable volumes from the jail library with which I could pass the time. Nobody bothered me. I could talk to the folks—though yes I couldn’t see them—in the cells on either side of me. But I could choose not to, too.

This was 25 years or so ago, when they still fed you decently in the jails around here. And so on Thanksgiving they shoved through the bars a fair approximation of a traditional American Thanksgiving repast: turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, yams, etc. I ate all of it. Yams I hadn’t much eaten before, and I haven’t eaten them since. But I had already discovered, there a monkey confined to a cage, that I’d eat just about anything the keepers slid my way. You do tend to get hungry, in every way, when your life is caged.

After Thanksgiving dinner the screws punched a video into the TV/VCR combo that sat on a low metal table rolled about on casters in the hall outside the cells occupied by we “serious felons.” I absolutely could not believe it: the film was The Black Stallion, one of my favorite movies, a tone poem completely about freedom, but one that I figured these cynical magpies in the “serious felon” row would hoot down and away, dismissing it as a “children’s flick.” How wrong I was. They, as it developed, had been on this row much longer than I; they had seen this film several times before, and they valued it. They got it as only people who don’t have it could get it.

Because it was Thanksgiving, that night we got a double feature. The second film was a ninja thing. As soon as it was punched in, we heard a groan from the guy in the cell to the far right.

“What bullshit,” he groused in his gravelly voice. “This is the one with the guy who takes more bullets and lives than even the guy in Scarface. What bullshit.”

And it was true. The ninja hero at one point was riddled with what looked like 20 or 30 bullets, mostly to the head and chest . . . but still, he kept on coming. As this nonsense approached its zenith, the guy in the cell at the far right kept muttering variations on “bullshit” and “check out this shit” and “no way.”

My unseen jailbird companion to my left at one point whispered to me: “That dude at the end, the reason why he’s pissed at this stupid shit: he’s in here on murder. He knows what it takes to kill a person. And it ain’t much.”

Several years later I spent Thanksgiving at Denny’s. I didn’t have to be there; I could have been other places, with other people. But Denny’s is where that Thanksgiving I chose to be. Even at the time, I knew that my Thanksgiving in Denny’s was worse than the Thanksgiving I’d spent in jail. Because then, in jail, somebody else had locked me up. But in dining at Denny’s, I had entered a jail of my own making.

Usually, these days, I don’t associate Thanksgiving with jail. But this year it came back at me. Because the day before Thanksgiving, here in 2010, a jury out of Texas decided that Tom DeLay, former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives, had committed enough crimes to stash him away in a cage for the rest of his life.

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When I Worked

December 2010
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